Cycle ride report: The Seven Ages of Shopping

Six chaps of advancing years assembled in Greenwich’s Cutty Sark Gardens on a breezy and occasionally showery Saturday morning, for a cycling spin up the Regents Canal and River Lea Navigation to Walthamstow. The primary purpose of the ride was to visit the newly-reopened William Morris Gallery, there to inspect a fine tapestry by Grayson Perry, Turner Prize winning artist and potter of this parish.

With a stiff tail wind we headed north up the Regents Canal, and then east along the Hertford Union Canal into Victoria Park in Hackney. By Molesworth Lodge we were joined by Patrick, an old friend and physicist colleague of mine of some 20 years standing.

From Victoria Park we negotiated some busy roads to the Eastway bridge, owing to the closure of the River Lea towpath around the Olympic park. Once safely onto the Lea towpath, we continued north to Springfield Marina, stopping there for a cuppa and chinwag.

From Springfield we headed east across Walthamstow Marsh, and then around the houses toward Walthamstow town centre, arriving at the William Morris Gallery at around one o’clock. The gallery reopened earlier this week following a major redevelopment which saw the construction of a new extension including a café and guest exhibit room.

The main William Morris and associates exhibition is largely unchanged in terms of the material it contains, but yesterday I noticed more in the way of hands-on stuff for all ages, and there were some multimedia presentations. It is very much a tactile museum, complete with signs urging punters to touch exhibits such as wood blocks for textile and paper printing, and beautifully bound, large-format illustrated books with the finest quality paper I have ever seen.

From Grayson Perry's “Walthamstow Tapestry” (photo: Francis Sedgemore)
Grayson Perry’s “Walthamstow Tapestry” is a work of creative genius. A Bayeux tapestry for our times, this 15-metre-long cloth takes the Seven Ages of Man and turns it into the Seven Ages of Shopping. Its core message concerns the emotional and cultural resonance of branding.

“Not everyone is a slave to fashion, but is it possible to escape the impact of advertising? Do we all worship at the altar of consumerism? Is there an alternative?”

Most apposite, considering the brand obsession of the Olympic Games. Is that a Big Mac ketchup stain I see on your Adidas tracksuit?

The return from Walthamstow saw us retrace our outward track, save for a detour around the Walthamstow and Hackney marshes, and a Thames riverside spin from Limehouse Link to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel entrance in Millennium Gardens. We were back before five, with 55 kilometres on the clock, and with seemingly little energy expended.

Next ride: Locks, Docks and a Bankside Boozer, Sunday 12 August

This will be a standard 45 kilometre Locks, Docks & One Smoking Ferry ride, widdershins from Greenwich, with a short extension into the City of London, crossing the River Thames for the second time via the Wobbly Bridge from St Paul’s to Bankside.

We shall stop for a drink at the Founders Arms on Bankside, before returning to Greenwich via the Thames Path through Southwark and the Lewisham Riviera. We could if we feel like it end the ride with another drink in the Dog & Bell in Deptford.

Meet 10:00 at Cutty Sark Gardens, London SE10 9LW. RSVP, but it’s quite OK to turn up unannounced on the day.